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Scores and Scores: Thomas Newman

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I'd like to spend some time talking about the composers and soundtracks that made (and continue to make) me fall in love with film music. This is all personal opinion - I will not be doing a history of film music series or  anything, as I am nowhere near qualified to discuss it and the BBC aired a nice little series last year that would be helpful if that's what you're looking for. There's also no rhyme or reason for the order in which I discuss these composers and soundtracks. Anyway, on with the show...

I had to start with Thomas Newman because according to my Last.Fm page, he is second only to Muse in my most listened to artists of all time list. Just scrolling through IMDB, my first encounter with Thomas Newman's work was probably Little Women but the first time I actually became aware of his music was during the American Beauty hype. I was far too young at the time to see the film but the main title, Any Other Name, was everywhere, wasn't it? I just remember being completely taken in by the simplicity and sadness of it all contrasted with that infamous poster. Then of course it was turned into a dance track. Remember when those Chillout albums were all the rage?!

When I started secondary school, I had a brilliant RE teacher who loved film and television and always found a way to incorporate media into our lessons. We spent a loooong time on Pay It Forward and we were all really inspired, naturally. The music completely stood out for me. It was the jauntiness of the percussion, the almost Western (as in film genre) and/or comical sounds, and then that stark, mournful piano again. Also, these pieces were the ones that allowed me to recognise where Thomas Newman had been imitated in other films or television shows. For example, Sam's themes in Transformers is quite similar in style.

Next up, we have Finding Nemo. This film was groudbreaking and special on all kinds of levels, which was only enriched by a BEAUTIFUL score. The theme is used all over the shop these days, usually on the news or a documentary where the intention is to make your face start leaking. Thomas Newman's trademark recipe of world instruments + percussion + a leading piano melody echoed by strings really helped enhance that underwater, unknown world theme. Similar results occured with Wall-E. Define Dancing still brings a tear to my eye.

One of my most played Thomas Newman scores is Lemony Snicket's: A Series of Unfortunate Events. This is probably my favourite complete Thomas Newman score (and one of my favourite films). Again, the use of percussion helps us unlock our imaginations to the world - in this case, a world of inventions in strange settings with even stranger (and sinister) people, all seen from a child's perspective.

Finally, The Shawshank Redemption. One of the most loved films (which I only just got round to watching the other day, ahem) and one of the most loved film themes. How can a piece of music only 1.53 in length make you feel so much?! I listened to this for years without having any context and was still moved, so imagine how I felt when I finally watched the film the other day? As for Brooks Was Here...well, best not to even get started on that one.

Obviously, there's so much more we could talk about - just look at how many films Thomas Newman has scored all with his signature style. I didn't even get to the Six Feet Under theme. However, just the little we've covered is enough to demonstrate why, during this year's Hollywood Reporter Composers Roundtable, Hans Zimmer noted that Thomas Newman has "revolutionized harmoic language in films...forever".

Are you a Thomas Newman fan? If not, have a listen to this playlist. What's your favourite piece?

1 comment

  1. Hi. Interesting list. I tend to gravitate towards Thomas Newman's melodic stuff ... usually from his early career: THE HORSE WHISPERER, HOW TO MAKE AN AMERICAN QUILT, LITTLE WOMEN. Well ... here's a top 10 list I did a couple of years ago, if you're interested in checking out some of those.


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